Our email chat with the Japanese dance-punk quartet Chai
How did you find the name of your band? And is it pronounced like tea?
Mana: Yes, it’s Chai!
Kana: I was the one who originally suggested the name Chai. When I was still in school, I studied Russian literature and culture and discovered Russian black tea. The taste is different from Japanese black tea, but I thought the word sound cute. I asked the rest of the group, “What do you think of ‘Chai? Everyone immediately replied, “That’s a good one!” We also thought it was important to give ourselves a short name that was easy to remember.
Yuna: It’s such a simple name but good, isn’t it? The sound of the word, above all. Also, it’s a short name, no one will try to shorten it or give us a nickname. In Japan, bands often give each other long names, and everyone ends up giving them nicknames. We wanted to get away from it.
“NEO” is an older song but it feels central to the band’s vision, especially the chorus about being cute. What does being cute mean to you?
Mana: Cute is a word that comes with the greatest compliment to many women in Japan. Many people want to be called kawaii or “cute”. It is a completely normal desire. For us, what defines the type of cute that currently exists in Japan is too narrow; [there’s] not enough variety. We created this word neo-kawaii [new cute] that compliments everyone.
Kana: I want everyone not to be taken by the word kawaii, and to know that you are all cute! Kawaii is such a strong word that some people can be really hurt or in trouble because of this word. That’s why we want to let people know that there is no such thing as someone “not being cute”.
Yuna: I think because cute is such an influential word. He has the power to hurt some people [and] make people fight, but we think everyone is cute. What you feel like insecurity is actually the part that makes you amazing! It’s the cutest part of you. Everyone feels good when you call them “cute”, don’t they? It’s a magic word.
Why is redefining beauty standards important to Chai?
Yuuki: Right now, what defines and what values are placed around what it is to be “beautiful” is very narrow. You have to be thin, [with] bigger eyes, [be] a clearer complexion, a sharper nose… all of this sets narrow standards. As a woman, I have always felt uncomfortable with these ideals. From the moment you are born, you must be beautiful, you must be cute. [That’s] how it should be!
Mana: We have always had a lot of insecurity growing up. We never thought we could fit in or be recognized for how cute is defined today. That’s why redefining cute for us was something that we thought would impact a lot of people.
Yuna: I was very unsure of the shape of my face, of the outline. I lived my life hiding my face shape with certain hairstyles until I met the rest of the Chai members. They told me that’s what made me cute. From there, I gained the confidence to never hide my face shape again.
Yuuki: Word neo-kawaii was created to relay the message that we are all cute, that we all need to be confident, that we are different and that all is well.
How was Chai formed? And how do you find the subjects of your songs?
Mana: I was in my high school music club and started to understand the ins and outs of what makes a band. We were a cover band for a while, but as we continued to play together we realized we could make our own music.
Kana: I guess you can tell we originally made music for ourselves. I just love music. Plus, music is the best way to capture someone’s heart. This is why we wanted to relay what we felt through music. We have the impression of always wanting to live with the music, side by side.
Yuuki: I write most of the lyrics to our songs, and the lyrics usually come last. That’s what we’re thinking about right now, right now.
Yuna: Doing live shows is really and purely fun. I’m a drummer, so from my point of view I try not to spoil the mood but also not to make the drums too simple. I think about what kind of rhythm I want to play depending on the feel of the song.
What message do you hope people get from listening to your music and seeing you perform live?
Mana: This music like ours exists [and] that you can live the life you choose. … That there are people who live their lives like this: free!
Kana: We live carefree, right? Looks like we’re having fun, don’t we? Music is an art, so there are no rules. Your body is really moving with no warning, no signal, which is what is so fun about it. … We would like the word and concept of neo-kawaii reaches people too. Come watch our show, and you’ll see what we’re talking about!
Yuna: Your insecurities are your most important charm points – this is the message we want to convey. Do whatever you want with the only chance at life you have.
Your last album is called Punk. What does being punk mean to you?
Mana: Punk is our ideal way of life. We want to live a punk life, and live our lives exactly the way we want to!
Yuna: For us, punk is not about gender, but about becoming who you want to be. It’s the ‘It’s good to be what you want to be’ mindset.
Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Is there something you can’t wait to do while you’re here?
Mana: [It’s] our first time! I have this image of the desert, very American summer! I want to get a taste of the American landscape.
Kana: I don’t think we’ve been to Vegas yet! I just love how it’s portrayed in the movies. Glad to see how bright it is with all the lights and nightlife.
Yuuki: I want to hit the casinos!
CHAI opening for The Drums. July 31 7:30 p.m., $ 22- $ 25. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.